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SERM. 9. Of affinity to the foregoing principles is this LXVII.

most plausible apology fors mothering our conscience, namely, a prudential apprehension, that we shall not come off well in openly avowing and abetting goodness, so as to do any good or service to it thereby; but shall thereby rather work prejudice and disservice to it.

The age (will such a wise man say) is incorrigibly degenerate; wickedness is not only bold and impudent, but even outrageously insolent; so that to appear strictly good is a kind of scandal, to pretend

conscience for our rule of action is to be ridiculous, Job xii. 4. to patronise duty is to provoke scorn and obloquy,

to mention religion is to prostitute and profane it, to concern God in our doing is to expose his most sacred and venerable name to irrision and foul abuse.

Such is the posture of things, that of all the sects and factions which divide the world, that of Epicurean scorners and mockers is become the most formidable; with disdainful pride insulting and vapouring over the professors of religion, persecuting all soberness of mind and staunchness of manners with a fierce rage and a kind of satanic zeal.

The state of the world being like to that when Psal. xciv. the holy Psalmist cried out, Lord, how long shall

the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph? how long shall they utter and speak hard things, and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves ?

In such a case, is it not seasonable to observe our Matt. vii. 6. Lord's advice, not to give that which is holy unto

dogs, nor to cast our pearls before swine; (not to expose good doctrine and holy practice to scurrilous and sensual people, who will snarl and bark at it,

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lji. 1. x. 3

will scorn and trample on it, will bite and tear you SERM, for it?)

LXVII. Is it not then wisdom rather fairly to retreat, withdrawing our virtue into a safe retirement, than by openly contesting for it against overmatching forces to hazard its being baffled and abused, its being trampled on and triumphed over, by scornful pride and malice ?

In such a world to oppose impiety, what is it but attempting to stop a torrent, to allay a storm, to gape against an oven, to blow against the wind, to kick against the pricks?

But if this case be rightly weighed, it rather strongly may engage us to an open profession and practice of the strictest virtue, than excuse us from it.

St. Paul doth enjoin us to walk accurately, not Eph. V. 15. as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, for this reason, because the days are evil; and that we Phil. ii. 15. should be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, shining among them as lights in the world, and *holding forth the word of life. * (or hold

ing fast, And great reason for it; for the worse the world 'Erixovres.) is, the more need there is of good patterns to instruct and guide it, to admonish and excite it to goodness.

If the days are evil, it is high time that we should apply our best endeavours to the mending of them.

If virtue be so near lost, or so quite gone from among us, it is needful that we should presently seek to recover or to retrieve it c.

Specta juvenis—in ea tempora natus es, quibus formare animum expediat constantibus exemplis. Tac. Ann. 16.

SERM. If goodness be so hardly pressed by opposition, LXVII.

then hath every good man the more reason to appear strenuously in its defence, the more are we engaged to hasten with all our might to its relief and succour from irrecoverable oppression.

Every one should labour to raise a bank against that inundation which threateneth to overflow and overwhelm all.

Shall we endure to see the adversary of our welfare to carry all before him without any opposition or obstruction ? Shall we suffer iniquity to enjoy a quiet reign, to root and settle itself in its usurpation, to raise itself a title of long occupancy and prescription against goodness?

Is it not then more generous to avow our friendship to virtue, and to abet it in our patronage, when it is under the hatches, and crieth for our aid ? is it not vile treachery in such a case to desert it?

Is it not gallant then to resist sin, and check wickedness, when it is so high and rampant ?

Who will not be virtuous (or endeavour at least to appear such) when virtue is in fashion and request; when it flourisheth in reputation, when all the world doth countenance and abet it? who will

not shun or disown wickedness, when it is comJudg. v. 23. monly odious and despicable ? who will not help the

Lord against weak adversaries.

But to embrace virtue upon greatest disadvantages, to disclaim vice in its triumphant prosperity, this is indeed brave and masculine.

He is a worthy man indeed who can keep the field among so many stout enemies, who can stand upright in a crooked generation; who can despise the scorn, defy the rage, bear up against the impu

dence and malignity of vain, base, wretched men, SERM.

LXVII. combining to supplant and extirpate goodness.

Nor have we reason in proceeding thus to despair of good success; we need not fear thereby to expose the credit, or endanger the interest of goodness. For,

How can we fail of prospering in the maintenance of God's cause and special concern ? Although men may commonly desert him, yet doth he not utterly forsake them, or give over the government of the world; he may let the reins lie a little loose, but he doth not put them out of his hands; his power cannot be abated, his providence can never sleep; though he is so patient in suffering wicked men to provoke him, yet he will not be slack in assisting good men, who take his part, and undertake to maintain his honour; assuredly he will help them, who help him against the mighty.

In this service one will chase a thousand, and Deut.xxxii. two put ten thousand to flight; one David will Josh. xxiii. knock down never so many Philistines reproaching God's name; one Phinehas will repress the petulancy Num. xxv. of a whole nation; one Jeremy shall be a brazen jer. xv. 20. wall against a whole land; God will make it good to such an one, They shall fight against thee, but Jer. i. 19. they shall not prevail against thee; for I am with thee, saith the Lord, to deliver thee.

One sober man in defence of virtue is able to discomfit all the hectors, the huffing blades, and boisterous ruffians in the world, attacking them with sound discretion and steady resolution: for all their bravery and confidence, they are easily mated; and being like their sire, if you resist them, they Jam. iv. 7. will flee from you: a prudent, seasonable, smart

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XX, II.

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SERM. check will quash their spurious courage and giddy LXVII.

audacity. Their contempt of goodness is but feigned; they cannot really for their hearts despise it; there is stamped on their souls and consciences such a respect, such an awe thereof, which they cannot quite rase out: wherefore if you briskly represent it to them, and challenge their reverence to it, they cannot but succumb, their own mind and conscience joining to back your reproof; so that if you cannot

reclaim them, you shall however repress them; if Jer. xx. 11. you cannot correct their vice, you shall yet confound 1 Pet. ii. 15.their impudence; For so, saith St. Peter, it is the

will of God, that with well doing ye may put to 1 Pet. iii. silence the ignorance of foolish men; and, Having Tit. ii. 8. a good conscience, that, whereas they speak evil of

you, as of evil doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your conversation in Christ.

It is only sneaking, or a timorous pretence to virtue, which they contemn; but they will admire those who stiffly adhere to it, and stoutly maintain it.

We shall therefore expose virtue, not by frankly avowing it, but by faintly slinking from it, when occasion requireth an open acknowledgment and exemplary practice of it.

If the world is so very bad, it will not be worse for our attempt to better it; it will be so much at least better, that one therein hath that worthy purpose.

It was bad, when Noah preached righteousness to it.

It was bad, when Elias was so zealous for the Lord of hosts.

It was bad, when Jeremy was derided for declaring God's will and exhorting to repentance.

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